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Tom Bombadil is an ancient god beyond Gandalf's understanding.
January 7, 2014 6:22 AM   Subscribe

I just finished re-reading the Lord of the Rings trilogy for the third or fourth time. I'll probably read it a couple more times before I die, at least one of which I'd like to share with a kid. What I'd like is "trivia" (broadly defined) that makes one think, or enriches one's appreciation of the mythos--from a purely textual perspective. Specific examples inside.

I'll never be a Tolkien scholar: I've only ever skimmed the appendices to the LOTR, and I have no intention (or much interest, even) in reading the Silmarillion or the Unfinished Tales. But I'd like some facts and observations (from whatever corner of the Tolkien canon) that enrich the experience of reading the LOTR itself.

For instance, Gandalf (and Saruman and Radagast) are not humans, they're Maiar--more or less "angels" walking Middle Earth. So is Sauron (and so are the balrogs), though Sauron is arguably the most powerful of the Maiar.

The Maiar were "bound" to different Valar, higher order "angels"--Gandalf to Nienna, the Valar of compassion--and that, in some ways, is critical to the unfolding of the tale (i.e., the famous "it was pity that stayed Bilbo's hand" dialogue with Frodo). Each of Saruman and Sauron were bound to Aule the Smith, the Valar of industry and craft. Hmm!

Then there's the whole business of Galadriel giving Gimli three of her golden hairs--whereas she rebuffed the same request by Fëanor, one of the most significant Elves in the mythos and creator of the Silmarils.

But I'm interested in even small little things--some of which are obvious, but that I personally glossed over in my childhood readings. The Lord of the Rings is Sauron, not Frodo (the Ring Bearer). Once the One Ring is destroyed, Bilbo, who gained his long life from his years with the Ring, fades rapidly, because the magic of the Ring is broken. Sam is himself a Ring Bearer and travels to the Gray Havens on the last ship from Middle Earth. Each of Frodo and Sauron has nine fingers. The Elves were more or less immune to the power of the One Ring (Galadriel, Elrond and Gandalf bear one each). The seven rings given to the Dwarves seem to have just roused them to greater greed, and ultimately four were destroyed by dragons (per Gandalf). Moria was the only place in Middle Earth where one could mine mithril (other than Numenor, which sunk into the sea), which explains, in part, why the Dwarves dug so deep. The Mirkwood spiders are descended from Shelob. Gandalf put Thorin up to the raid on Erebor so that Dwarves under the Mountain could be a bulwark against Sauron's forces assaulting Rivendell from the north. The eagles save the day when Frodo and the dwarves are stuck up the trees in The Hobbit, and again at the Battle of the Five Armies, and when Gandalf is trapped on Orthanc, and when he vanquishes the Balrog on Durin's Tower, and at the battle at Morannon, and then save Frodo and Sam from Orodruin. Busy eagles!

It leaves me a bit breathless.

What I am NOT interested in (at all) is Tolkien's experience at the Somme, Stephen Colbert loving Tolkien, Sam being based on Tolkien's dear friend Sam G. Amgee, or the Palantir representing the perils of long-distance telephones in British country post offices.

I'm looking exclusively for observations and facts derived from the text itself that would make a reader (first time or repeat) think, "wow! I did not know/notice that."

Please nerd out here (though I hope we can keep the "well, actually..." to a minimum--I'm just looking to smoke some Old Toby and have a good time).
posted by Admiral Haddock to Media & Arts (69 answers total) 94 users marked this as a favorite
 
Aragorn wears the Ring of Barahir, which has an interesting backstory.

The parallel between Aragorn/Arwen and Beren/Luthien lends some interesting depth to both stories.

Also I know you're not looking for this type of info, but related to the second item: have you ever seen Tolkien's grave?
posted by schroedingersgirl at 6:30 AM on January 7


Aragorn and Arwin are first cousins.
posted by digitalprimate at 6:31 AM on January 7


If you haven't read this nerd-out thread about Tom Bombadil you might enjoy it
posted by runincircles at 6:32 AM on January 7 [4 favorites]


You might enjoy poking around the Lord of the Rings Wiki. I always do.
posted by AmandaA at 6:35 AM on January 7 [2 favorites]


I don't have a trivia note, I just have a question to consider.

In Return Of The King, the Witch-King, leader of the Nazgul, has famously claimed that "No man can kill me". But then, when he gets to battle, both Merry and Eowyn team up and do him in.

However - which of the two actually dealt the fatal blow? In other words, when the Witch-King said "No man can kill me", was he referring to gender, or to species?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:43 AM on January 7 [4 favorites]


Or simply number? It took the two of them after all.
posted by bonehead at 6:48 AM on January 7 [2 favorites]


Yes, EmpressCallipygos, it was a loophole in the prophecy. Eowyn kills him because she is female.
posted by elendil71 at 6:48 AM on January 7 [3 favorites]


The Silmarillion is where most of the "wow!" moments you crave emerge. It reads like a religious text, so it's a hard slog, but worth it, in the end. Instead of neatly wrapping things up in a bow of pat explanation, it broadens the horizons of Middle Earth immeasurably - especially if you take it as unreliable received knowledge and poetic folklore muddled up in documented history and shadowy myth. You know, like a religious text.

It may be rewarding to attempt it... or attempt it again if you already tried. Took me a couple of goes to get into it, but I'm glad I made the trip.
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:53 AM on January 7 [3 favorites]


The Tokien Professor offers a series of fun podcasts that are explicitly text based analyses of Tolkien's work. I really enjoyed his lecture series on the Hobbit and learned a lot despite my having read the Hobbit and LotR dozens of times.
posted by ursus_comiter at 6:54 AM on January 7 [7 favorites]


Or, Merry's wound is the fatal one because he's hobbit.

But that's my point - it could go either way, which is the cool thing. There is no right answer. (Bonehead even came up with a third option.)

Another observation I've heard of came on one of the directors' commentary tracks for Return of the King; this is apocryphal, something I can swear I've read but can't find again right now for proof. Supposedly, at some point on the commentary track for ROTK, Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh get caught up in that old question of "why the hell didn't the Eagles just fly everyone to Mordor instead of having Frodo walk all that way", and after the two of them crack jokes back and forth for a few moments, then suddenly Philippa Boyens comes in and snaps that well, duh, the Nazgul would have been expecting that and waiting for them and they'd have gotten all caught up in an aerial battle and it would have been even more risky. And apparently there's silence on the commentary track for a few seconds until Peter Jackson meekly admits that that's actually a good point.

(I don't know which part of that story I like better - the fact that yes, it is a good point that the Nazgul would have expected that, or the fact that Jackson got out-nerded.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:57 AM on January 7 [5 favorites]


As a bit of a side note/trivia, the "no man can kill me" is a very old trope. Shakespeare used it in Macbeth for example as being "no man born of woman can kill me". Depending on your translation Macduff kills Macbeth because "he was from his mothers womb untimely ripped."

Tolkein, as a professor of Medieval Literature would certainly have been quite aware.
posted by elendil71 at 7:01 AM on January 7 [7 favorites]


The Mirkwood spiders are descended from Shelob.

Shelob, in turn, is the last child of Ungoliant, the giant spider who teamed up with Melkor to attack Valinor. Ungoliant "drank" all the light from the Two Trees of Valinor, extinguishing them.

Afterwards, the only remaining light from the Two Trees existed in the Silmarils - jewels crafted by Feanor - which basically turned them into the most precious items in Middle Earth. The one Silmaril that was truly recovered (by Beren and Luthien) was eventually sent into the sky by Earendil and became a star.

Some of the light from Earendil's Silmaril was preserved in Galadrial's Phial, which she then gifted to Frodo in LOTR, which he eventually used to... save himself from Shelob.
posted by hot soup at 7:05 AM on January 7 [22 favorites]


Actually it is not that the one ring has no power over the elves, so much as Sauron has no power over the 3 elvish rings when he is not in possession of the one ring since he did not have a direct hand in their forging. However since Celebrimbor used knowledge he had learned from Sauron to forge the 3 the elves would not dare wear it when he had the one ring.

I suggest visiting www.reddit.com/r/tolkienfans they are very serious about this stuff
posted by BobbyDigital at 7:16 AM on January 7


In a self-indulgent "well, actually"--it's clear that Eowyn kills the Nazgul (she stabs him in the "face," and Merry "pierced the sinew behind his mighty knee"). But the actual quote is "no living man may hinder me," after Eowyn says she'll try to hinder the Nazgul from finishing off Theoden. I don't doubt that Merry's knife to the knee "hindered" the Witch King, though, even if he didn't kill him.

These are great so far--you are well on your way to blowing my mind.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 7:18 AM on January 7 [1 favorite]


A minor bit of trivia: Sauron literally translates as "abomination" in Tolkein's high elvish. It's a mockery of his original angelic name, Mairon, "admirable".
posted by bonehead at 7:26 AM on January 7 [3 favorites]


I just saw something floating around Tumblr about the Arkenstone of the Hobbit very possibly being a Simaril. I'll go look for it and repost it here when I find it.

Another source for good information - scholarly but not written in a dry way, but rather in a really engaging, conversational way, are Tom Shippey's books J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century and The Road To Middle Earth/. Lots of really interesting stuff in there.
posted by PussKillian at 7:58 AM on January 7


Hmm, here are two Arkenstone discussions:
link 1

link 2
posted by PussKillian at 8:02 AM on January 7 [2 favorites]


Not in-world, but Tolkien got the names of most of his dwarves (and Gandalf) from a poem called "The Catalog of Dwarfs," which is included in the Poetic Edda (although there is a bit of an argument over where it properly belongs in that collection). Unsubstantiated dwarven fun fact: Tolkien popularized "dwarves" as the plurals of "dwarf."
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:11 AM on January 7 [1 favorite]


Something I glossed over in my first few readings (although it is discussed in Return of the King) - the role of palantirs and Sauron in the downfall of both Saurman and Denethor, but in different ways based on their different strengths and weaknesses. Denethor is not directly corrupted by Sauron but he trusts too much in his own strength and foresight - Sauron tricks him into believing that the forces of darkness are overwhelming and that there is little hope in victory. I also think that Sauron twists his visions of Aragorn and Gandalf's doings, although I don't recall if this is implied or outright stated.

The fact that Denethor fights on despite this is a sign of his strong will and loyalty. It's only when he believes Faramir is dead, thus ending the great line of the Stewards of Gondor, and he sees his future as the "dotard chamberlain of an upstart," that he loses his will.
posted by muddgirl at 8:13 AM on January 7


Just to point out that the original prophetic reference by Glorfindel to Eärnur about the fall of the Witch-king of Angmar is "Do not pursue him! He will not return to these lands. Far off yet is his doom, and not by the hand of man will he fall."
posted by Chrysostom at 8:22 AM on January 7 [5 favorites]


Yeah, the Elves are definitely subject to the power of the Ring -- Galadriel gets badly tempted by it, for example. The only person utterly unaffected by the Ring is Tom Bombadil.

Speaking of Tom Bombadil, there's an alternate reading of his character that is definitely interesting! Probably not supported by authorial intent, but absolutely supported by the text.
posted by KathrynT at 8:23 AM on January 7 [6 favorites]


I highly recommend Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion. It's basically the annotation of the books, and packed with exactly the kind of info you are asking for, Admiral Haddock.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:24 AM on January 7 [1 favorite]


Oh, and Galadriel is Elrond's mother-in-law.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:26 AM on January 7


Aragorn and Arwin are first cousins.

Not exactly. Aragorn is descended from Elros, Elrond's brother (and Arwen's uncle), but by way of about 65 intermediate generations. So they are first cousins, sixty-five times removed.
posted by mr vino at 8:31 AM on January 7 [6 favorites]


Still counts.
posted by digitalprimate at 8:33 AM on January 7 [6 favorites]


http://askmiddlearth.tumblr.com/post/41497309376/was-the-arkenstone-a-silmaril

That's a great theory:

The Arkenstone was a silmaril, the one cast by Maedhros into a firey pit, presumably. The silmarils are tied to the fate of the world.

This silmaril emerges at the end of the third age, causing the quest of the dwarves, resulting in Bilbo finding the Ring.

The Arkenstone ultimately provokes the War of the Five Armies, as the silmarils are always a cause of strife. This battle results in the first alliance of elves and men (and dwarves) since the Second Age, just in time to counter the rising power of the Necromancer.

Given the silmarils' divine nature, it's a short hop to see the Arkenstone as Illuvatar's finger in the Hobbit, preparing the way for the final defeat of Sauron.
posted by bonehead at 8:34 AM on January 7 [1 favorite]


The Elves were more or less immune to the power of the One Ring (Galadriel, Elrond and Gandalf bear one each).

Not immune. Sauron had no hand in forging the Elven rings (Gandalf's was originally borne by Cirdan the Shipwright), and thus had no power over them.

Unsubstantiated dwarven fun fact: Tolkien popularized "dwarves" as the plurals of "dwarf."

Um no. Tolkien went to great pains to explain that the correct plural is 'dwarfs.' I believe it was in The Hobbit.

I am loving this Arkenstone-as-Silmaril theory. It makes perfect sense.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:01 AM on January 7 [2 favorites]


According to the Prologue, Middle-Earth is our own world in the distant past, and Eriador where the hobbits lived is now the North-West of the Old World, east of the Sea.

Given Tolkien's attention to detail, this means that he had problems including New World plants, and as far as I remember, both potatoes and tobacco never appear under those names but only as "taters" and "pipeweed" which obscures the anachronisms a bit. (His cornfields, like those of any English writer of the time, would be wheatfields, not maize).
posted by Azara at 9:05 AM on January 7 [1 favorite]


Not immune. Sauron had no hand in forging the Elven rings

Yes, I said that wrong; I meant that the three Elven rings (and their wearers) were not subject to control by Sauron via the One Ring, as the Nine (and seven) were. It's clear Galadriel and Gandalf, FWIW, were tempted by the power of the One Ring.

It does look like I'm going to have to read the Silmarillion!
posted by Admiral Haddock at 9:06 AM on January 7


However - which of the two actually dealt the fatal blow?

In the original Swedish translation, a translation error gender reversal has Merry killing the witch king, not Eowyn. It blew my mind when I figured this out, having read the translation at least four or five times before I read the English original... And yes, Eowyn finally killed him, being a woman not a man.

- When I first read LOTR, I wondered why Gimil's request to get some of Galadriel's hair was seen as so shocking, as the Lorien elves gasped. But that's because in "The Shibboleth of Fëanor" we can read:

Even among the Eldar she was accounted beautiful, and her hair was held a marvel unmatched. It was golden like the hair of her father and her foremother Indis, but richer and more radiant, for its gold was touched by some memory of the star-like silver of her mother; and the Eldar said that the light of the Two Trees, Laurelin and Telperion, had been snared in her tresses. Many thought that this saying first gave to Fëanor the thought of imprisoning and blending the light of the Trees that later took shape in his hands as the Silmarils. For Fëanor beheld the hair of Galadriel with wonder and delight. He begged three times for a tress, but Galadriel would not give him even one hair. These two kinsfolk, the greatest of the Eldar of Valinor, were unfriends for ever.

So the request must have seemed particularly brazen, given that history.

- Both Sam and Gimli get to go to the Undying Lands in the end, after Aragorn died, to be reunited with Frodo and Bilbo, et al. It is said that part of the reason for Gimli leaving Middle Earth was so he could see Galadriel again.


I like this particular r/lotr discussion on the early history of the LOTR universe.
posted by gemmy at 9:08 AM on January 7


It does look like I'm going to have to read the Silmarillion!

Yes, do! It's best consumed in small bites, and you will find much flipping back and forth to recheck details. It is... dense in the detail department. I advise a bunch of those little post-it flags to mark pages as needed.

So the request must have seemed particularly brazen, given that history.

It's never really clear from the text how much history the average Middle Earthian really knows. I mean the Elves of course basically know everything that happened back to the year dot because they were, y'know, there. There's actually an interesting notion that Galadriel is basically the root cause of almost all the bad shit that's happened, and her 'Lady of Light' stuff is either an attempt to redeem herself or denial, take your pick.

Anyway. It seems clear from the text that everyone basically knows who Isildur was (last king of Gondor; same way we all know who e.g. Cleopatra was), and therefore that Aragorn is kind of a Big Deal, but not much about the Ring (which seems like an odd thing; perhaps the Ring can warp reality to prevent widespread knowledge?). The hobbits, certainly, don't seem to know much, and the text doesn't really seem to support the idea that Gimli would have known the intricacies of intra-Elven romance from ~5K years previously.

I'd suggest, rather, that Gimli knew nothing of this history, and him asking for her hair is a bit of narrative mirroring; Feanor demanded as an entitlement, was refused, and Shit Went Down. Gimli asked out of love, and was rewarded.

(Also unless my memory is playing tricks on me he later set her hair into a jewel which became the great treasure of his house. After he retook Moria? I think he retook Moria.)
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:25 AM on January 7


Um no. Tolkien went to great pains to explain that the correct plural is 'dwarfs.' I believe it was in The Hobbit.

This is incorrect (and exactly backwards). Tolkien preferred and used the term "dwarves" and later mentioned that he regretted not using "dwarrows". This is explicitly stated in Appendix F of Return of the King, as well as in his letters. At one or more points, his use of the word "dwarves" was incorrectly edited against his wishes to "dwarfs".

My own favourite bit of Tolkien theorycraft is the Bombadil-Witch King theory. They never appear together in the books...
posted by Sternmeyer at 9:36 AM on January 7 [3 favorites]


Gimli becomes Lord of the Glittering Caves, at Helm's Deep.

There is a reference in the History Of Middle-earth to Durin VII re-colonizing Moria later in the Fourth Age, but it did not make the final version of LOTR, so must be considered conjectural.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:39 AM on January 7 [1 favorite]


This is incorrect (and exactly backwards).

Well fuck me sideways. I had always remembered it the other way around. Apologies.

Gimli becomes Lord of the Glittering Caves, at Helm's Deep.

Gah. It looks like a re-read is in order!
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:43 AM on January 7 [1 favorite]


It is said that part of the reason for Gimli leaving Middle Earth was so he could see Galadriel again.

In the appendices to the Lord of the Rings, it says that Legolas builds a grey ship that can sail to Valinor, and he takes Gimli along, but I remember it being presented as an uncertain fact.
posted by muddgirl at 9:49 AM on January 7


My own favourite bit of Tolkien theorycraft is the Bombadil-Witch King theory. They never appear together in the books...

My theory is that Bombadil is a Chaotic Neutral Maiar. All the others seem to be sort of Neutral Good or Chaotic Evil. He's the one they don't talk about at reunions.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:51 AM on January 7 [3 favorites]


but I remember it being presented as an uncertain fact.

Yes, I just looked it up--in 1541 of the Shire Reckoning, Legolas builds a ship in Ithilien after Aragorn's death, sails down Anduin and over the sea "and with him, it is said, went Gimli the Dwarf." I had forgotten Gilmi went over. Only Merry and Pippin left behind!
posted by Admiral Haddock at 9:56 AM on January 7 [1 favorite]


Gandalf and the Balrog he fights in the mines of Moria and Sauron are essentially all the same kind of being. They are all Maiar and are essentially lesser angels sent to Middle Earth by the Valar (greater angelic powers).
posted by BearClaw6 at 9:57 AM on January 7


In LOTR even the plants have complicated lineages. The White Tree in Minas Tirith grew from a fruit of the White Tree of Ithilien which Sauron burned. The White Tree of Ithilien grew from a fruit of Nimloth, in Numenor, which Sauron also burned; it is in turn a cutting of the tree Celeborn of Eressea, which in turn is a cutting of Galathilion of Valinor which was made in the image of Telperion, one of the Two Trees of Valinor, from whose light the Silmarils were made.

When Sauron shows images of the White Tree of Gondor burning, then, he's not just referencing the imminent threat he poses to Minas Tirith; he's recalling his corruption and destruction of Numenor three thousand years before, and even further referencing his master Morgoth's destruction of the original Trees from which the White Tree is ultimately descended.

Likewise the name of Minas Tirith itself is an insult to Sauron: it's referencing Sauron's greatest defeat, at a different Minas Tirith, on Tol Sirion in Beleriand, nearly seven thousand years before during the War of the Silmarils, where Huan the Hound defeated Sauron in Werewolf form.

I literally just finished reading the Silmarillion two days ago. Highly recommend.
posted by Oxydude at 9:58 AM on January 7 [10 favorites]


I highly recommend The Annotated Hobbit, which is... well, heavily annotated, and spends a lot of time explaining the greater mythos in general and how it relates to The Hobbit. It especially gets into the various languages and their uses throughout Tolkien's work. It sounds like you'd enjoy it, provided you skipped the parts about Tolkien's life.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:11 AM on January 7 [2 favorites]


I'd suggest, rather, that Gimli knew nothing of this history, and him asking for her hair is a bit of narrative mirroring

Oh, I completely agree that Gimli had NO idea. I was just always struck by the reactions of the Galadhrim:

The Elves stirred and murmured with astonishment, and Celeborn gazed at the Dwarf in wonder, but the Lady smiled. 'It is said that the skill of the Dwarves is in their hands rather than in their tongues ' she said; `yet that is not true of Gimli. For none have ever made to me a request so bold and yet so courteous. And how shall I refuse, since I commanded him to speak?
posted by gemmy at 10:21 AM on January 7


I just realized you mentioned the Galadriel hair thing in the question. Sorry. I'll flip through my own much-annotated copy when I get home for these types of notes.
posted by gemmy at 10:37 AM on January 7


Wow, that Bombadil article. As a kid, I knew he wasn't what he said he was and took 'the master' part as meaning he was some sort of weakly god like being who was helping the hobbits because why the hell not he's bored or something. This though, this makes a lot more sense.
posted by Slackermagee at 11:25 AM on January 7


Wow, that Bombadil article.

Alternate hypothesis: Tom Bombadil eats hobbits, that's why none have ever heard of him.
posted by Ham Snadwich at 11:30 AM on January 7 [11 favorites]


"why the hell didn't the Eagles just fly everyone to Mordor instead of having Frodo walk all that way"

My personal fan-theory has always been this: So, you're on the White Council. You know the Ring has to be sent to Mordor to be destroyed. You also know that there is a pretty good chance that whoever takes it will be corrupted by the power of the Ring and go over to the other side. Who do you least want to see working with the enemy - a hobbit who, at worst, will turn out like Gollum? Or Gwaihir the Wind Lord, an enormous bird of prey who could easily eat your head and has his own bird of prey army?

Me, I would go with the hobbit.

More on topic, I was always a language geek and remember being completely intrigued by the fact those aren't the hobbits' real names. The names are in translation from Westron (iirc) into English.
posted by darchildre at 12:33 PM on January 7 [8 favorites]


Oh, man, there's a TON of these things — glad you've decided to read the Silmarillion after all!

The reason Gandalf's ass is saved so often by the Eagles — the Eagles are associated with Manwe, who chose Gandalf/Olórin to go to Middle-Earth after the Downfall of Númenor. I'd need to check the text to be precise — but there's a theory that the eagles are a created race, similar to dwarves, in the sense that they're minor spirits Manwë conjured up (or sang into being, I suppose) to run errands and keep an eye on those uppity Noldor. Since they're minor spirits, and thus, have more power than a mortal, their destructive potential if they're corrupted by the One Ring is great. They don't carry it into Mordor for the same reason Gandalf won't take the ring himself.
posted by culfinglin at 12:55 PM on January 7 [4 favorites]


More on topic, I was always a language geek and remember being completely intrigued by the fact those aren't the hobbits' real names. The names are in translation from Westron (iirc) into English.

Okay so my memory has more holes in it than I thought. Where do I find this?
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:00 PM on January 7


That's in Appendix F, 'On Translation,' I think ?
posted by culfinglin at 1:03 PM on January 7


Yes, Appendix F, section II "On Translation."

I have ROTK right here next to me, if anyone needs stuff looked up.
posted by Chrysostom at 1:08 PM on January 7


Yup, that's the section. (I always found it half wonderful and half completely frustrating. The information about the languages is great, but dammit, I always wanted to learn Khuzdul!)

culfinglin, thanks for the info re: the eagles. I thought I remembered something about them being semi-Maiar but couldn't find it anywhere.
posted by darchildre at 1:14 PM on January 7


There's some background on the Great Eagles here. They do seem to be more than your run of the mill boids. Given that the Istari were instructed not to directly go against Sauron (IIRC), it would make sense that the eagles weren't going to fly the One Ring to Mount Doom.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 1:24 PM on January 7


the three Elven rings (and their wearers) were not subject to control by Sauron via the One Ring, as the Nine (and seven) were.

Actually, no. Not quite. The Three were not subject to Sauron's will unless he possessed the Ruling Ring. Hence the "Ruling" part. Sauron could assert his will over the Nine and the Seven even without the One. But when Sauron first revealed the One, the Elves immediately perceived that through it, he could control even the Three. They therefore removed their rings and went to war. From The Silmarillion:
But the Elves were not so lightly to be caught. As soon as Sauron set the One Ring upon his finger they were aware of him; and they knew him, and perceived that he would be master of them, and of all that they wrought. Then in anger and fear they took off their rings.
This is in contrast to the Seven and Nine, which remained under his sway even after the One was lost.

it would make sense that the eagles weren't going to fly the One Ring to Mount Doom.

Also, remember that the Nazgul had flying beasts of their own. That was never going to work while the Nine were abroad.

As to trivia not discussed elsewhere in-thread. Most of this is in the Silmarillion, though I might be drawing on Unfinished Tales without meaning to, the canonical status of which is questionable.

- Glorfindel, who participated in the confrontation at the Ford of Bruinen is--somehow--the same Elf who was killed covering the retreat of Eärendil, among others, during the Fall of Gondolin, fairest of the cities of the Noldor in Beleriand. Exactly how he's the same person isn't established in canon, but Tolkien was pretty insistent that he is.

- Speaking of Gondolin: Sting, Glamdring and Orcrist were all made in Gondolin before its fall. Glamdring, Gandalf's sword, is thought to have belonged to Turgon himself.

- By the end of the Third Age, Galadriel is one of the only remaining High Elves in Middle Earth. Glorfindel is another. Galadriel is about 6,500 years old during the War of the Ring. We don't know when Glorfindel was born, but he's probably around there, as are any remaining Noldor. They saw the light of the Trees in Aman and then lived through the First, Second, and Third Ages of Middle Earth. They're old. Cirdan is about two hundred years older, though as he never went to Valinor, he is lesser in might and grace than Galadriel. Celeborn is. . . problematic, but he was certainly alive during the Second Age, so he's at least like 4,500.

- Hobbits are thought to be a sub-species of humans. Certainly far more closely related to men than to elves or dwarves.

- The greatest of the Valar are chiefly responsible for one of the four elements each. Manwë is greatest, and rules the realm of the air. Melkor/Morgoth was his equal in might, and ruled fire. Ulmo rules the watery realms. Aulë governed earth, specifically rock and metal. Other Valar had other roles, but these are the Big Four. Note that their spouses' portfolios tend to be related somehow, and the Maiar they attract are definitely that way. So Morgoth gets the fire spirits like Balrogs, the storm god follows Ulmo, etc. Whatever the Eagles may be, they and all other birds are associated with Manwë.

- Dragons, like Smaug, were created by Morgoth during the First Age, to counter the valor of the Noldor. But no mention is made of Smaug then, so he probably came along some time later. Regardless, the idea that Smaug and Sauron could have forged some kind of alliance is not at all improbable. Sauron was Morgoth's chief lieutenant and the dragons his greatest creations. White on rice. Tolkien discusses this in "The Quest for Erebor" in Unfinished Tales, where Gandalf is revealed to have been significantly motivated in encouraging Thorin to retake the Lonely Mountain to ensure that Smaug never participated in the War of the Ring. Even as a free agent, Smaug was too dangerous a factor to leave lying around.
posted by valkyryn at 3:30 PM on January 7


Wiki page is pretty good on the problem of Glorfindel.
posted by Chrysostom at 3:55 PM on January 7


Though you don't want to read the Silmarillion, you should re-consider reading just the first chapter. It's only 10 or so pages, and it's freaking amazing - my favorite chapter in literature. Low risk, high reward.
posted by hootenatty at 4:34 PM on January 7 [1 favorite]


One note of mine that matches your question:

The Mouth of Sauron (who confronts Aragorn at the gates of Mordor) is a Black Númenórean* - the Númenóreans who were corrupted by Morgoth/worshiped Sauron and caused Númenór to be sunk. Aragorn is the descendant of The Faithful - the Númenóreans who remained friendly with the Elves and respectful to the Valar, and who were led by Elendil to form Arnor/Gondor in ME.

So that confrontation at the gate, when the Mouth cringes before Aragorn, is basically a final vindication of the power of the Elindili over their fallen counterparts.

*Three of the Nazgul are also Black Númenóreans
posted by gemmy at 9:19 PM on January 7


Two items I haven't seen mentioned here that the OP might enjoy:

The Encyclopedia of Arda

The Lord of the Rings re-read on tor.com, with Kate Nepveu and some very thoughtful commenters.
posted by zadcat at 9:48 PM on January 7


"why the hell didn't the Eagles just fly everyone to Mordor instead of having Frodo walk all that way"

By the time they flew in though, Sauron's armies were scattered and broken hundreds of miles to the West and Sauron himself was destroyed. Without Sauron, his remaining forces lost their will to fight.

This is like asking why the allies didn't just hold the Potsdam conference in 1940.
posted by atrazine at 1:13 AM on January 8 [3 favorites]


valkryn beat me to it, but the reading of the machinations leading to the events in the Hobbit was, hey, Smaug is still there. If, say, Sauron were just to show up again, and he and Smaug got buddy buddy, that'd be game over, right? Essentially the whole thing, Gandalf searching out Thrain and the dwarves was to convince them to set the events in motion that would eliminate the last dragon in circulation.

As for Smaug and his power, I have the vague inkling that he was, compared to the dragons in the Silmarillion, not all that grand, but that, like the Balrog, pretty much anything left over from those ages was just that ridiculously greater than, ahem, the kids these days.

As for Merry, I'm pretty sure it was the dagger he used, which came from the barrows near Weathertop, and was itself older than the Witchking, that allowed him to even hurt the Nazgul, and even so, it essentially dissolved into nothingness right after. And then Eowyn did some righteous killin'.
posted by Ghidorah at 4:58 AM on January 8


valkryn beat me to it, but the reading of the machinations leading to the events in the Hobbit was, hey, Smaug is still there

I beat you both to it! It's mentioned in the question.

I started the Silmarillion again this morning--we'll see how it goes when I hit the dense history.

There's lots of great stuff here (more, of course, is welcomed!)--I'll be going through in more detail in the coming days. Thanks so much!
posted by Admiral Haddock at 6:08 AM on January 8


In a self-indulgent "well, actually"--it's clear that Eowyn kills the Nazgul (she stabs him in the "face," and Merry "pierced the sinew behind his mighty knee").

Eh, I think this is in doubt -- there's a later passage that says of Merry's sword, "No other blade, not though mightier hand had wielded it, would have dealt that foe a wound so bitter, cleaving the undead flesh, breaking the spell that knit his unseen sinews to his will." This suggests that it was really Merry's wound, from a (magical?) sword forged in Westernesse for the specific purpose of fighting "the dread realm of Angmar and its sorcerer king," that destroyed the spell that animated the Witch-King (hence the drying-up-and-blowing-away, empty-hauberk effect, probably) and at least rendered him mortal, making the death a collaborative project. I can't imagine the Witch-King of Angmar being the sort of creature you can kill just by stabbing it in the face, metal as that is.
posted by ostro at 8:17 AM on January 8 [1 favorite]


Love this thread. Here are some other bits of "trivia" to consider:

- Throughout LotR, Aragorn and various other folks wax fondly about great Numenor that was lost, treating it as a shining beacon of pure purity. But in the Silmarillion, we learn that even before the "captive" Sauron got his hooks into them, the men of Numenor were lording it over the other humans of Middle Earth as cruel tyrants. I've always found it interesting that virtually every one in LotR who speaks of Gondor's forerunners does so in reverential, wistful tones.

- Although it's generally held that all orcs are evil in Tolkien's work, there's a blink-and-you'll-miss-it line in, I think, the Silmarillion that makes it kinda sorta possible to reach an alternative conclusion. The description of the Battle of Dagorlad holds that "all living things were divided that day, and some of every kind, even beasts and birds, were found in either host, save the Elves only." I've always found that utterly fascinating. No character in Tolkien's works ever seems to acknowledge what this line implies about some of the so-called evil races -- orcs, trolls, giants -- and their alignment (in D&D terms).
posted by lord_wolf at 11:28 AM on January 8 [1 favorite]


Just found this and immediately thought of this thread: What happened to the Entwives.
posted by Andrhia at 7:15 AM on January 9 [1 favorite]


GenjiandProust: Unsubstantiated dwarven fun fact: Tolkien popularized "dwarves" as the plurals of "dwarf."
While I can't exactly disprove it... what else would the plural be?
Scarves, elves, leaves, shelves...
posted by IAmBroom at 9:00 PM on January 13


Dwarfs was the historical plural. As in "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs." Good brief articles from Grammarist and Language Log on pluralizing dwarf.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:08 PM on January 13 [3 favorites]


- Although it's generally held that all orcs are evil in Tolkien's work, there's a blink-and-you'll-miss-it line in, I think, the Silmarillion that makes it kinda sorta possible to reach an alternative conclusion. The description of the Battle of Dagorlad holds that "all living things were divided that day, and some of every kind, even beasts and birds, were found in either host, save the Elves only." I've always found that utterly fascinating. No character in Tolkien's works ever seems to acknowledge what this line implies about some of the so-called evil races -- orcs, trolls, giants -- and their alignment (in D&D terms).

If I recall correctly, the orcs were made by Morgoth as twisted copies of the elves. In fact, I believe the originals were captured elves who were corrupted and then bred into the orcs.
posted by Celsius1414 at 12:12 AM on January 14 [2 favorites]


Oh and I think Treebeard mentions that trolls were copies of ents.
posted by Celsius1414 at 12:15 AM on January 14


Tolkien says here that Treebeard was incorrect.
posted by Chrysostom at 7:21 AM on January 14


I knew that shaggy old bastard's stories couldn't be trusted. Termites in his heartwood, if you know what I mean...
posted by IAmBroom at 1:55 PM on January 14 [1 favorite]


I knew that shaggy old bastard's stories couldn't be trusted.

That's fine, but what about Treebeard? ;D
posted by Celsius1414 at 11:10 PM on January 14 [4 favorites]


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